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SPRINGFIELD - Illinois lawmakers left town Thursday after reporting little progress on breaking the legislative logjam that has sent them into an uncertain overtime session.

Despite several hours of talks this week between Gov. Rod Blagojevich and legislative leaders, members of the House left town early Thursday and won't return until Tuesday.

The Senate adjourned for the day before 1 p.m. and is not expected to be back in town until next Thursday.

Judging from the comments of top officials as they emerged from closed-door negotiations Thursday, Illinoisans shouldn't expect any action on high electric rates and the state budget for at least another week.

"Inch by inch. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step," said Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago.

At issue are disagreements over how to help customers of Ameren and ComEd who have been hit hard by rates that rose Jan. 1. A measure to roll back rates to 2006 levels is pending in the Senate, but some lawmakers are holding out for a more sweeping change in how Illinois handles the sale and distribution of electricity.

The issue is holding up passage of a state budget, which also has been the source of major disagreement.

Blagojevich wanted to raise billions of dollars through a new tax on businesses to fund a massive expansion of health insurance, but found few supporters.

House Democrats earlier pushed through a budget plan, which could be taken up by the Senate if the electric rate issue is resolved.

But Blagojevich and Senate Democrats continue to press for a larger expansion of spending, saying the state needs to allocate more for education, public transportation and pensions.

The House budget relies on ending a series of business tax breaks to generate $300 million in new revenue. That money, combined with naturally occurring revenue growth, could add $800 million in new spending.

Of that, more money would be earmarked for schools and public universities.

But, critics say the proposal is not balanced and could result in deep cuts to state services.

Deputy Gov. Sheila Nix said the governor isn't averse to the Senate adopting the House version of the budget as a way to keep government operating when the new fiscal year begins July 1.

"The governor urged them to fix those holes," said Nix.

Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, also sounded a supportive note for a bare-bones budget, but only if lawmakers later add more spending for health care and education.

"As a stop gap measure, we don't intend to be caught in a position where we are going to stop the basic services to people. So we would be supportive of any initiative that will keep those services going," said Jones.

As for when talks might resume, Madigan said it was unclear.

"I just don't know. I'm available," he said.


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